While trying to leave Nador I realized that the GPS device wasn’t able to position the side streets exactly where they were. After these e-maps were made public the citizens relocated the streets for sure. Either new houses were built or the streets were turned into dead end. Enes was joking around with me.
– Travel with Gurkan Genc, he takes you off road even in the city.
Dude, how could I know that these guys just shuffled the streets. It became one of Enes’ sayings: “Nador is the city where the navigation device turned mad.” Our exit trials from the city after struggling for 10 km and with several back yard ending streets succeeded at the last. We stopped at the first store we saw.
Enes asked for alcohol for his stove which we as usual didn’t find. Although he keeps his argument that there is some but we are not able to find, it is hard to find alcohol in this country on the contrary to Europe. Furthermore, the few bottles he had found till yet were all imported from France or Spain.
The shopkeepers in Morocco price the imported goods in Euro and not in Dirhem. Of course, also adding some Euro’s on top of the actual prices. This was the situation we were mostly faced with while traveling along coastal part, the region closer to Europe.
Funda is looking for cheese varieties in the shop but there isn’t a wide range. The same is for Muesli, it is hard to find but not impossible. The shopkeeper shows us a few French and Spanish brands. Since I entered this country from the eastern side, the panorama and the people look very familiar to me. Dude, this here resembles Central Asia. I immediately check the expiration dates of those Muesli brands. Well, I’ve got some experience : ) Just as I thought.The goods to be expired shortly or non sold ones are simply exported to the towns in eastern Morocco from Europe. Shopkeepers buy these goods dirt cheap and sell to the natives. Whatever comes in your mind, muesli, cheese, chocolate everything is sold. As I mentioned, all look very familiar to me. This was the same when I was travelling through Asia but there the goods where imported from Russia. We buy two loaves of bread and move on. This bread baked in stone ovens is really delicious. Meanwhile, I was asking “How much Manat?” more and more frequently. Well, after a while Funda asked me:
– For god’s sake, why are you keeping to pronounce Manat? Which currency is that?
– Upss, I wasn’t aware of that.
Well, it is normal. After that much travelling for such a long time, I’m out of order. Let’s see what else will happen.
At the entrance of a small town along the road a graveyard caught my eye which I photographed while passing by. Morocco is the first Muslim country I’m cycling through after Europe. The cemeteries in Europe were well kept, flower decorated places where people were chatting with each other sitting on the banks or jogging on the surrounding trails. This won’t be the case anymore. I’ll try to find graveyards resembling the ones as I mentioned above in Muslim countries.
(When I’m talking to people in Turkey I use my satellite phone)
There are three GSM operators which also offer internet connection via cell phone in Morocco. I eliminated one immediately, the remaining two are Inwi and Moroc Telekom. After I paid 200 Dirhem (about 25 USD) for 2GB internet via Inwi, I realized its internet was only at a speed of Edge. Though it wasn’t as fast as 3G it stayed connected even at the most remote spots without any connection problems. Well, I was able to use only 1GB internet during one month. 100 Dirhem was wasted.
If you know French, Morocco is the cheapest holiday destination without any communication problems. The Moroccan pupils have to learn both languages Arabic and French. Therefore, where ever you visit in Morocco, you’ll find people speaking French. The Moroccans salute us as: “Bonjour”. Hey, also in France everybody recognizing that you are a foreigner would salute you as “Bonjour”, I mean the village people of course. This is the same here.
We were riding up a hill in the middle of nowhere.Enes was riding at the front, and then came Funda and I was behind her. A construction worker ran to the road recognizing the flag on Enes’ bicycle. He was shouting as “Heyoo, Turkey”. Enes and Funda didn’t stop. But I was curious about him and stopped right in front of him.
– Oooo, Salam, salam. Istanbul?
– Yes, dude. We are from Istanbul.
– I was in Istanbul, Aksary, Izmir, Mersin, Adana, Hatay, Antalya, Fethiye, Marmaris
He spoke broken English. He had illegally entered Turkey from Greece and had worked at several constructions. After he was caught and deported, he worked in Bulgaria and Romania and at the end returned to his country. He was looking forward to go back to Turkey again. While chatting he said:
– My English is bad. If you know French we can continue in French.
– No, no. It is alright, I do understand you.
– I have tea, if you want to drink.
-No, thank you. My friends are already ahead. I have to catch them. Nice to meet you. Can I take a photo of you?
We encountered a similar case in a village of nowhere where we were trying to buy food in a shop. The man didn’t understand us. Just as I was about to ask in Arabic with the help of my dictionary a villager entered the shop and talked to us in a very good English. Our mouths went o-shaped. As that guy continued to talk I realized that this was not normal. I asked him what the hell he was doing in this village with this English. Also, I asked him where he had learned English. He was speaking so good English much better than I’m. It turned out that he graduated from the department of English Literature. He couldn’t find a suitable job in the city and returned to his village, farming.
Another issue which I paid attention while riding through Morocco was that there is at least one elementary school in every village. Furthermore, the distribution of girls to boys is almost equal to each other. While the boys gather when I want them to photograph, the girls never look at the camera and even run away. This mainly happens in the villages. You will see girls saluting foreign cyclists and trying to chat with them in bigger cities. Even, in one city girls wearing chador (a long black robe by Muslim women that covers the body from head to toe) saluted me. Morocco is also one of the rare countries where traditional dresses are daily worn, among the ones I have visited so far.
As in most countries, people in rural areas are very hospitable. Dude, there are two policemen. There are no trees, no building, nothing. What the hell are they doing here? They stop us:
– Salam, passports… Aaaa, Turkey?
– Yes, Turkey.
– Welcome to Morocco. We have to write down your passport numbers.
– Would you like to have a glass of tea?
– Okay : )
Dude, these guys were left there in nowhere, controlling the passengers. A very strange control spot. On top of it, they were offering tea for touring cyclists like us.
While accomplishing my military service as a military police, I gained also some experience. For example, when I was touring in Turkey I used to stop by county gendarmerie and chatted with soldiers and the commanders, asking them for a suitable place to camp nearby. I did this and similar things just to have some conversation and bring color into my tour. Otherwise, I never have had difficulties in finding a camping place. Furthermore, I used to ask the commander for permission to lunch together with the soldiers.
Expecting to find “municipality or a similar place” I asked for it in a village. Yes, there was one “municipalité”, just the same meaning as that in French. (If you wonder why, let me say that French were the first establishing a municipality system) Be aware that their closing time is 17 p.m. in this country. If you are planning to overnight in a village you have to talk with the officials before 17 p.m. Otherwise you won’t be able to find anyone. Of course, again I met people speaking French fluently. I talked in body language with them, that’s it. Enes was observing me throughout the conversation:
– Gurkan, I also got what you were talking about. You use the body language pretty good.
The guy showed us a little room to overnight and where the lavatory is. Also he brought a plate filled with cookies. In the morning he prepared breakfast for us before seeing us off.
Hey, I would stop by municipalities in every village while riding through Morocco for sure and ask for a place to overnight. Of course, not in all municipalities were we welcomed the same way. Even, one day we stopped by gendarmerie. The guys got really surprised seeing us in the village of nowhere. I talked to the officer inside the building trying to explain what we wanted. He tried to find a suitable place for us. Meanwhile, Funda was taking photos of the children and the village. The soldier talking to Enes and me started shout all of a sudden: “Don’t take photos. It’s forbidden.” “Dude, what is happening?” I recognized Funda and started to laugh. She was taking photos of the military building. I mentioned this issue in my previous reports. Even in your own country, if you try to shoot photos of a military area or security facilities there is always a possibility to get arrested. Moreover, taking photos of military facilities in a foreign country? Well, we all like to photograph but do not have to exaggerate. I still remember the day on which I had photographed the Russian missiles in Turkmenistan and the conversation afterwards, not a far past. Those were the days.
The name of the village, we are presently in, is Momamat. Actually this village is not situated along the road to Fes. Even, the road to the village was going up a hill. While we were ascending Abdullah and his brother also had accompanied us on their bikes and had directed us first to the municipality and then to the gendarmerie. Well, I had chosen this village to test whether we would receive the same hospitality from the municipality or gendarmerie or not. Unfortunately, it was not the case. The commander of the gendarme came next to us and told that we were not allowed to put up our tents in the village and have to continue to ride towards Fes. We left the gendarmerie building and sat on our saddles.
– Since we’ll camp this night, let’s go to the shop and buy bottled water and bread.
Meanwhile, Abdullah was waiting for us at the in front of the door. We told him what happened. He got very upset. After thinking a while he asked us to wait and added:
– My friends will help you.
When traveling alone I don’t feel uneasy about such situations. But this time I’m in a foreign country having a female companion. At such times I don’t handle relaxed and flexible in terms of camping as usual. I guess these are breaking actions caused by my previous experiences. Also, sharing Abdullah’s offer with Funda and Enes, I saw from their faces that they were not pleased about this offer.
Anyway, before we were finished with shopping Abdullah had reached his friend, Sayid. He was talking a fluent English saying he was very pleased to meet us. His dream was saving money and travel to Turkey. On the run he told us the places he knew and the places where he wanted to go in Turkey.
– Gurkan I’ll arrange a place where you can overnight. Just wait for a couple of minutes. I’m waiting for a call from my friend.
– Thank you very much Sayid. But we have to put up our tents before it is getting dark.
– Please wait a couple of minutes.
Meanwhile, it was getting dark and seemed to rain soon. While waiting for the phone call he saw another friend of him. He showed him us and asked him whether he can host us. He just looked at us and approved. Enes and Funda left the decision to me. If I had said no, we would have camped. If I had agreed we would have stayed in the village. It is important during such tours that only one decides what to do and the others simply obey. The whole team accepts the decision no matter it turns out good or bad. The team has to choose a leader who will take the risks behaving as if one body.
– My friend, I understand your hesitation since you are in a foreign country, but no harm will come from us.
Since Sayid said this by heart, I decided to stay. After a 5 minutes’ walk we arrived in Zouhir’s house. Zouhir an university graduate is 27 years old. Since he didn’t find a suitable job he returned to his village and opened an internet cafe. He has two sisters and a brother. With their mother they all live together in a house, rather a small palace. A three stories house with countless rooms and a huge saloon. As soon as they save up some money they furnish a room. Also, he is practicing taekwondo possessing a black belt rank. There are certificates and photographs hanging on the wall related to his education. His mother pulls herself together as she sees us. We salute her. Also in Morocco people kiss the hands of elderly, but in a different way than that in Turkey. I bend to kiss her hand but at the same time she removes her hand. Well Teyze (aunt in Turkish, also used for older women) are you kidding me? I just wanted to kiss your hand. Which gets through my mind but do not pronounce of course. Why did she remove her hands? Due to sanitary reasons? But she did the same when Sayid tried to kiss her hand. Haaaa… This is the custom here. You do not kiss the hands truly as in Turkey. You just bend to kiss her hand and she removes it.
We seated down at a corner in the huge saloon; also our bicycles were taken inside. Well, we put all three bicycles fully loaded inside the house. As I said this house is a small palace. Then, we started to tell our story. I told my friends when people ask us where we are coming from to give one short answer. We all set out from Turkey and cycled till here. If I answer as I started to cycle from Turkey and we arrived here, then people continue to ask many questions. Did you fly? No by bicycle. How come by bicycle? The ones standing here? Which countries did you traverse? Never ending questions. If someone asks Enes he just replies as: “Gurkan, tell the story”. I try to sum up our story in the order of introduction, development and result within a minute.
Zouhir’s sister Emel cooked for us delicious local dishes that evening. Morocco as you know is an Islamic country. Especially, the northern part after Fes seems more conservative. Therefore, we appreciated that Emel was trying to communicate with us. During my travel in Morocco I will try to communicate with other girls chatting about their country. Meanwhile, Sayid gave me a short Arabic writing and reading lesson. Dude, I studied really pretty hard for 1-2 hours. Quite different from the roman alphabet, Arabic words are written from right to left and the lines and punctuations subject to memorize. Being this the situation, Chinese seems to me easier. At least Chinese characters resemble what you see.
That night we slept in the guestroom. Funda was sleeping with Emel in another room. The whole family has to leave the house by 8:40 a.m. They also prepare a breakfast for us. Then we leave the house.
It is still raining. At junction Zouhir hugs us and wishes bon voyage. Then turns his back and hits towards his cafe. As I was about to follow Funda and Enes I stop. Zouhir was looking very thoughtful. I watch him walking under the rain. He catches my look and waves with his hands rising his thumb up. I smile. Last night he hosted three guests traveling around the world. I wonder what he is thinking. What would I think? As he said during our conversation: “Gurkan, it is pretty hard to live in Morocco”, I couldn’t say anything to him. What if I tell what I have experienced and witnessed, tell about people living under worse conditions, and tell him that he should be pleased with his life. What if I tell him that I witnessed what a person can achieve when the incredible power of soul is set free. Would he believe me? Would I success in persuading him in that short time we met? The only thing I could say never give up your dreams.
Zouhir I know that you would read this writing. All what I can do is to wish you and Sayid that you meet misfortunes bravely and never give up your dreams. I will be waiting for you in Turkey and you are always welcome in my home. Even if I’ll be absent my family and friends would host you.
My best regards to the family
The photos taken between Nador – Fes ( Enes Sensoy, Funda Uluturk, Gurkan Genc)